Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf

ASM Communications Social Media Specialist Julie Wolf spent her research career focused on medical mycology and infectious disease. Broadly interested in microbiology and scientific communication, she has taught at Long Island University and the community biolab Genspace and has written for the Scientista Foundation and Scholastic’s Science World magazine. Follow her on Twitter for more ASM and Microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.

Friday, 26 August 2016 12:12

The inflammatory nature of a bad recycler

Being a bad recycler implies creating more waste because items aren’t being reincorporated into the production chain. Plastic water bottles can be broken down and turned into new plastic bottles, gardening gloves, or fleece – any of which means less oil needs to be harvested and refined to the polymers that constitute these different items. Bacteria, in general, also tend to be very good recyclers. The energy it takes to reuse a compound is generally less than to build the molecular structure from scratch.

Robots help sort patient samples, test clinical specimens, and analyze the results. Now a study shows that robots, in the form of drones, can help move our samples from place to place, with little effect on the analytical outcome.

How do you identify an unknown microbe? If you’ve taken an introductory microbiology lab course in the past twenty years, chances are you were assigned an unknown bacterium that you had to identify through differential media and biochemical assays. Newer techniques like qPCR are being standardized to identify human-associated fecal bacteria for water safety surveillance. But in the wake of the next-generation sequencing revolution, there is no substitute for whole-genome sequencing as a method to pinpoint the exact strain of an unknown microbial species. As NGS technology has advanced, sequencing costs have decreased and applications of the technology have broadened.

Though both gingivitis and periodontitis are diseases of the gums, the related ailments are not simply different severities of the same disease, finds a new study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Researchers confirmed this by investigating the bacterial composition of the supragingival plaque through high- throughput sequencing.

Recently, one of the Journal of Bacteriology Classic Spotlight series highlighted the numerous studies on bacterial spores that have been published in the journal throughout the years. Bacterial endospores, the resilient and relatively quiescent bacterial structures first identified in the 1800s, have had their genetic regulation, immunological properties, and biochemical makeup investigated for decades. The structures are incredibly resistant and produced by select members of the Gram-positive Firmicutes phylum. Despite many rigorous studies investigating these biological structures,new research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology shows that there's always something new to learn in microbiology, including aspects that appear as straightforward as morphology.

Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:42

ASMCUE Happenings 2016

No matter the niche field a scientist pursues, there is one aspect of almost all career paths that scientists have in common: teaching. Whether lecturing a quorum of undergraduates about bacterial genetics, mentoring a research fellow as they learn the lab protocols, or presenting an invited lecture to a group of established scientists, one must consider how to present information in an understandable and absorbable manner. The American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Education (ASMCUE) is the annual forum for science educators to discuss learning objectives, active learning exercises, and the best applications for new technologies. This year’s meeting, held July 21-24 in North Bethesda, Maryland, focused on presenting information in many styles, with an emphasis on learning by doing. Other major conference themes included assessment methods and primary literature use in the classroom.

The Gram-positive bacterium Enterococcus faecium is a member of the ESKAPE pathogens for which drug resistance has been a growing problem. How E. faecium becomes drug resistant has been a long-standing question, and is the focus of a new study now available in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. A research team led by senior scientist Louis Rice has identified chromosomal regions where homologous recombination facilitates incorporation of genes conferring beta-lactam and vancomycin resistance.

The anaerobic, Gram-positive Clostridium difficile is a big problem. It causes rampant diarrhea and tissue necrosis, with more than 150,000 annual cases in the United States alone. Many of the disease manifestations of C. difficile are mediated by two exotoxins that C. difficile produces: TcdA and TcdB. Researchers have long been working at toxin inhibition as an approach to disarm C. difficile and improve treatment, and new research in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology shows promise in blocking toxin activity in vivo.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s likely a duck – so goes the saying that illustrates the simplest explanation is usually the right one. But what about duck decoys used in conjunction with bird calls? Misidentification can be a deadly error – and the same goes for microbes. Misdiagnosed infectious disease etiologies can be a very dangerous mistake for sick patients. Most clinical microbiology labs are able to use sophisticated biochemical and genetic tests to differentiate microbial species and strains, but newly emerging pathogens can be misidentified if they closely mimic another. That appears to be the case with the newly emerging fungal pathogen, Candida auris.

As we highlighted in a previous blog post, antibiotic stewardship – the careful use of appropriate antibiotic administration – can have positive effects. A small change from a difference in clinical lab reporting led to less drug use, which led to fewer drug-resistant infections. When we think of antibiotic stewardship, the onus is often thought to be on those that work in the clinic – the scientists who determine isolate susceptibility, or the clinicians who decide which antibiotic should be prescribed to a patient. These individuals certainly have an essential role to play in proper antimicrobial drug use in a health-care setting.

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